Urban life is becoming ever more prevalent in modern society and with this growth come new challenges, responsibilities, and consequences. In my piece, I present what a city should look like both now and in the future. I hope to inspire city dwellers, old and young, to make contributions, no matter how small, to creating the cities we deserve, and more importantly that our world deserves. To make my square for the quilt, I researched projections of what cities would look like in the future and the role of cities in the fight against climate change. Reusing fabrics from old clothes and other cloth provided to me and of my own supply, I carefully quilted the square, full of color and life, to show how “intelligent densification” in cities can help reduce carbon emissions. It is possible to aid our environment and to improve city life for all. Our cities are beacons of hope for humanity, providing opportunity, a chance to be reborn, and most importantly, a home. If our cities can do all of this for us and more, what’s stopping us from doing this for them?
The process of crafting my quilt square helped give my research topic a clearer direction. My topic is centered on why and how pollution affects impoverished, minority neighborhoods more than white neighborhoods in America and how this can affect the futures of the children living there. To convey this message using my quilt, I constructed an image of an impoverished, urban environment using fabric and markers. On my quilt, you can see a large factory with smog pouring from its chimneys adjacent to several dilapidated apartment buildings and children playing in the street, signifying the poor and polluted neighborhoods that impoverished minorities inhabit. I also crafted a pair of ill-looking lungs to symbolize the respiratory diseases that these conditions can produce in the inhabitants there. Lastly, the phrase, “Pollution in Minority Neighborhoods” acts as the closer for my quilt, summing up the overall message it presents. The inspiration for this piece is the Industrial Business Zone in East New York, where my middle school was located. This section of the community is lined by factories, vacant lots, and abandoned houses, so my quilt serves as a window into the reality of areas like this one in American cities.
As an academic, I believe it is my responsibility to incorporate political economic and ecological concepts and histories into my research, teaching, and community involvement. To avert a worstcase scenario already unfolding, we collectively need to understand and overcome the pressing, interrelated crises of our time of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and obscene levels of social and economic inequality worldwide.
I aim broadly in this quilt square to express “the nature of the city,” playing on the double entendre of “nature” as character or quality of urban spaces and “nature” as all the life and elements surrounding human beings and the built environment. However, I also want to represent the problem of centuries of humanity’s attempts to conquer, master, and control nature, which has catapulted us into a new epoch of the Anthropocene. The large hawk and small city skyline represent what Marx called an “irreparable rift” in the social metabolism between nature and society. The challenge for humanity in the 21st century is to mend the rift by ceasing to extract fossil fuels and other natural resources from the earth and building egalitarian societies based on human need for the many rather than exorbitant profits for a very few.
My quilt square depicts exploitation of workers in cities. Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I felt it was appropriate to portray the city I love. The city skyline in my square is composed of various cool or neutral-colored fabrics. I did this to portray how the city is becoming increasingly unkind and mechanical. The large strips of black fabric patterned with leaves, which support the city, symbolize the immutable truth that cities and their inhabitants affect the natural environment and are a part of nature. I fastened the skyline to my square using several running stitches and occasional whip stitches.
The Statue of Liberty, the central figure of my square, is composed of a collage of various fabrics fastened to the statue using a running stitch and whip stitches in some areas for added security. I collaged Lady Liberty to mirror the grandeur and diversity that she symbolizes to New York City. That she stands on Liberty Island, torch aloft, represents an invitation for all to come to New York and experience all that the city offers. She is a symbol of inclusivity and welcomes all in search of prosperity to a diverse cityscape. However, the modern city has become increasingly hostile to this racial and economic diversity, seeking at times to eradicate it. The words I chose to include in my square from Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus, and the popular political slogan, “Workers of the world Unite,” together, I hope, inspire those who see my square to act to create a better future.